So you are working with a group of children and someone loans you several boxes full of hand puppets and it’s almost Christmas. Hmmm. Let the creativity begin. The idea began to simmer in our minds and our research began. Did you know that there are very few puppet Christmas tree stages out there? In fact, we could find nothing that would suit our needs, and so we decided we’d have to make one from scratch. If you have a notion to undertake such a project, be prepared for an exciting journey. We discovered that we had to consult our budget, our children, and even our puppets. Yes, even the puppets had to participate to create this Puppet Christmas Tree Stage!
We’ve Gotta’ Get a Life!
How ‘Bout a Puppet Christmas Tree Stage?
But First Things First
It quickly became apparent that each puppet must have an identity, and a name. The children responded much better to their “little friends” when we referred to them by name. “Red, you stand over here, and Slick, how about standing behind Molly and Pops.” This identity would prove to be helpful when the children would later be out of sight and we needed to ask a particular puppet to do a specific action.
How to Build a Puppet Christmas Tree Stage
- Measure your usable space, locate electrical outlets, predetermine how the children will enter and exit stage.
- Consult a basic puppet construction diagram to get a feel of what the needs are spatially between each row and how the puppets will move about within the stage
- Sketch what you think your tree skeleton will look like.
- Secure the lumber you will need to construct the framework
For our frame we used 2” x 2” x 6’ wood (By “splinting” them together for length we were able to have a 15’ front row.) We wanted our frame to be lightweight for portability and storage.
Though I built a scale mock-up of the sketch (using cardboard and craft sticks) there was still quite a bit of trial and error in getting exactly the set up the way we desired. I recommend using screws rather than nails to make corrections easier. Once we were satisfied that the frame was satisfactory, we color-coded and numbered each intersection for easy disassemble, storage, and reassembly.
We discovered that a 2’ x 4’ x 12’ cross construction in a heavy-duty tree stand worked perfectly as the back brace and main post for the tree top.
Once the basic frame was completed to our satisfaction, we painted the entire frame a dark green in preparation for the tree panels. You’ll notice at this time we had the chairs inside the frame to make sure all measurements would accommodate the children as they worked with the puppets.
Some puppet stage instructional books recommended the children not use chairs, but crawl about on their knees. We discovered that since we were working with younger children, the chair gave them a particular space and helped them not be so tired when working the puppets. (Little arms have not developed the muscle to keep hands in the air for much over a few minutes before they are pretty well worn out)
Creative Expression Unleashed
The overall dimensions of your puppet frame will determine how many 4’ x 8’ sheets of insulation foam board you will need. These can be found at your local home improvement store for less than $25.00 each. (I prefer the ¾” thick for durability against breakage when I am carving).
Again, it’s back to precision measurements. For the back cross section which will anchor the entire tree as a tree, you’ll need to know the height from the back rail to the top point of the cross, and the width of the arm from left to right. Basically you’ll be drawing an Isosceles triangle in two half sections vertically to assemble together on the cross. (see pictures that follow)
Continue measuring, and cutting. If you feel insecure at this point, use butcher paper to make yourself a template.
- Draw your patterns on the foam board
- Using a box cutter type knife (longer blades work best) cut out the pattern (keep changing blades as they dull quickly on the foam)
- Paint all pieces green in a vertical pattern in the direction the piece will be assembled.
- Once dry, use darker green and “think like an evergreen” adding motion to your tree parts. (don’t be too particular…it’s the illusion you are after, not detail)
Time to Put it all Together
Tips for building your Puppet Christmas Tree:
- Using short screws on a low variable speed electric drill will help you not go through the foam when attaching the panels to the tree frame. (we used washers on the larger pieces)
- On the middle internal rows, we used fabric as the partition with only the top 12 inches in foam board. This allowed air flow between the tree sections so children would not become too hot. (Old bed sheets dyed green make inexpensive fabric partitions)
- Do a trial run with the puppets to make sure everything is the way you want it before beginning the decorations.
- Add “wings” at an angle to block the audience from seeing the children in the puppet tree
Let the Decorations Begin
- Add green garland as your foundational decoration. (All decorations can be attached to the “tree” using straight pins with heads – quilter pins are amazing)
- Add strings of lights (start with the male plug at the back panel left, closest to the floor and continue zig-zagging across the tree.) This will enable you to run all electricity for lights with minimal wires where children will trip or play with connections
- Hang any type ornament you desire on back panel since children will not bump them. On middle and front panels, I recommend non-breakable ornaments because the children will brush against these and they might fall off.
- Do one last “check” before adding final decorations.
Check with the Puppets & Leaders
And then, Turn on the lights – Show Time!
Have you used a Puppet Christmas Tree stage before? I’d love to see pictures and hear more about it. I’d also love to hear about any unique or unusual stage set you have seen or created. My mind is already in a creative mode for a possible “cityscape” puppet stage. Anyone ever seen anything like that?